Oral & Vision Health Blog

Facing your Fears at the Dentist

Are you afraid to see your dentist? You have lots of company. Research shows that about 36 percent of Americans avoid dentists out of fear. Many people have enough anxiety that they will only go to the dentist when they absolutely have no choice.

Avoiding the dentist is not a workable option. There is the issue of bad breath when tooth decay and periodontal disease kick in. Then serious illness can follow. We are here to help and tell you that there is a coping skill you can develop to face your fears at the dentist.


Root Causes of Fear


  1. Pain

Fear of pain appears to be the biggest reason that people avoid the dentist. If you have experienced significant pain during a dental visit, it is a good bet you are not eager to return. Worse, once you have a fear of pain, your body becomes tense, which lowers your pain tolerance even further. Here are some tips for dealing with pain at the dentist:

  • Speak up. You can talk with your provider and work together to find ways to reduce your anxiety. Many dentists have methods—such as music, warm towels and even laughing gas (which can be safe and effective, according to the ADA)—to ensure that the dental environment is more soothing, and the experience is relatively pain-free.
  • Ask for breaks.If you think you will need a break during treatment, you can use a signal that you and your dentist agree on ahead of time. When you give the signal, your dentist will know you need a short break to take a deep breath.
  • Use relaxation techniques.You can make a playlist on your smartphone of your favorite songs to help keep your mind in a “happy place.” Aromatherapy really works, too, and lavender is a calming scent. These techniques can help you relax. Slow, conscious breathing also helps, too.


  1. Feelings of Helplessness and Loss of Control

That bright light shining in your face. Your mouth jammed with dental instruments. You cannot speak. You must sit still and hear those high-pitched drills. And really, all you want to do is jump out of your seat and run! Here are some tips to deal with fears of helplessness: 

  • Ask your dentist what to expect. You can ask ahead of timeabout what each appointment and procedure will be like, and what you are likely to feel. If you are seeing a new dentist, consider scheduling an appointment so you can get to know them a bit more personally. This can help your comfort level, especially when voicing your anxiety.
  • Express pain points.Some of us have tooth sensitivity. So, the idea of having a cleaning can cause unease. Let the dentist know if you do, and on which teeth. The cleaning of those teeth can be modified so you are not leaping off the chair.
  • Muffle the noise.If you are sensitive to sounds of the instruments, bring along ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones. Music also works, too.
  • Adjust your position.If you feel anxious or experience discomfort because of the position of the dental chair, speak up. Ask the dentist or the assistant to adjust your chair’s position.
  • Bring something to squeeze.Having something tactile like a stress ball is good for that. Maybe one for each hand! You can feel free to squeeze hard when you are uncomfortable…and take breaths.


  1. Negative Past Experiences

If you have had negative experiences at the dentist over the years, that can create a lot of anxiety and aversion. Bad experiences can be hard to move past - but dentistry is always changing. There are new advances that might drastically change your experience. Feel free to educate yourself about what is new in dentistry or ask your dentist. Here are a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Innovative technology has done away with past discomforts. For example, new, panoramic X-rays mean that you no longer must experience those hard tabs when it is x-raying time. And topical anesthetics are more common and effective than ever before! 
  • Training and techniques are always getting better. Training about the use of local anesthesia means that dentists are taking initiative to make sure their patients are comfortable during their visit.
  • Do not be afraid to switch dentists, either. If your dentist disregards your discomfort or you have an uncomfortable experience it is worth speaking to them about steps to take to improve on your next visit. If things don’t work out, you may want to search for a new dentist. Perhaps a friend or relative knows a dentist who will be more patient-friendly. Maintaining your oral and overall health is worth it.


Fear can be a lot to deal with - especially at the dentist. We hope these tips help you schedule that much needed appointment and stay on track with your oral health.

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